Four British Columbia wildfire fighters died before sunrise Tuesday in a head-on collision as they traveled home from a tour of duty battling Canada’s worst wildfire season in modern history.
The fires, which have burned the largest land area observed in the country, have forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate and coughed up smog that led to air quality warnings across Canada and the eastern United States. The season has been taxing on Canadian wildfire crews, officials lamented, as Tuesday’s deaths bring the number of firefighters killed in British Columbia this summer to six.
“Our hearts are broken by news of the death of four wildfire fighters who were traveling home after a tour of duty,” British Columbia Premier David Eby said in a statement Wednesday. “This is devastating news in what has been an immensely difficult wildfire season.”
The collision occurred at 2 a.m. when the firefighters’ Ford F-350 pickup truck “failed to navigate a bend in the road,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. James Grandy said.
The crew was traveling along Highway 1 in south-central British Columbia when the vehicle crossed over the road’s centerline and collided with a tractor-trailer.
The tractor-trailer caught fire after the collision, but its driver was able to escape before the vehicle was engulfed in flames, Grandy said. All four occupants of the pickup truck were pronounced dead at the scene.
“This year has been particularly challenging for the B.C. Wildfire Service, with several of its members facing injuries or losing their lives,” Grandy said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the friends and family of those who help keep our Province safe.”
A spokesperson for the British Columbia Wildfire Service referred questions to the police when reached by the Washington Post on Wednesday, but confirmed there have been two other firefighter deaths during the 2023 wildfire season.
Devyn Gale, 19, and Zak Muise, 25, both died in July while fighting wildfires. Gale was killed by a falling tree, while Muise died when his ATV rolled over a steep drop on a gravel road, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“Firefighters are on the front lines in so many parts of B.C., creating hope from despair and working tirelessly to save lives and livelihoods,” Eby and the province’s forests minister, Bruce Ralston, said in a joint statement Wednesday. “Words cannot express the depth of our gratitude.”